The American Bird Conservancy Guide to Bird Conservationby Daniel J. Lebbin, Michael J. Parr, George H. Fenwick, Jonathan Franzen
Whether we live in cities, in the suburbs, or in the country, birds are ubiquitous features of daily life, so much so that we often take them for granted. But even the casual observer is aware that birds don’t fill our skies in the number they once did. That awareness has spawned conservation action that has led to notable successes, including the recovery of
Whether we live in cities, in the suburbs, or in the country, birds are ubiquitous features of daily life, so much so that we often take them for granted. But even the casual observer is aware that birds don’t fill our skies in the number they once did. That awareness has spawned conservation action that has led to notable successes, including the recovery of some of the nation’s most emblematic species, such as the Bald Eagle, Brown Pelican, Whooping Crane, and Peregrine Falcon. Despite this, a third of all American bird species are in trouble—in many cases, they’re in imminent danger of extinction. The most authoritative account ever published of the threats these species face, The American Bird Conservancy Guide to Bird Conservation will be the definitive book on the subject.
The Guide presents for the first time anywhere a classification system and threat analysis for bird habitats in the United States, the most thorough and scientifically credible assessment of threats to birds published to date, as well as a new list of birds of conservation concern. Filled with beautiful color illustrations and original range maps, the Guide is a timely, important, and inspiring reference for birders and anyone else interested in conserving North America’s avian fauna. But this book is far more than another shout of crisis. The Guide also lays out a concrete and achievable plan of long-term action to safeguard our country’s rich bird life. Ultimately, it is an argument for hope. Whether you spend your early weekend mornings crouched in silence with binoculars in hand, hoping to check another species off your list, or you’ve never given much thought to bird conservation, you’ll appreciate the visual power and intellectual scope of these pages.
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The American Bird Conservancy Guide to Bird Conservation
By Daniel J. Lebbin Michael J. Parr George H. Fenwick
The University Of Chicago PressCopyright © 2010 The American Bird Conservancy
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWatchList Birds
The species is still the most widely accepted unit for conservation prioritization among birds (though see The Conservation of Subspecies p. 20). Most of the 800 plus bird species that occur in the U.S. are protected by federal or state laws. The Endangered Species Act (ESA) protects the rarest of the rare; the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Lacey Act, and state wildlife and hunting laws protect almost all other birdsonly nonnative species such as the House Sparrow and European Starling have no protection at all (though animal cruelty laws may afford even these some protection depending on location and circumstance).
While these protections include both halting the killing of birds and the conservation of habitat, they are not fully enforced, and unfortunately many species are still declining due to a variety of threats. All birds listed under the ESA receive conservation attention, although in some cases this is still insufficient (e.g., some Hawaiian species), but until recently there was no single agreed list that also included the next most urgent priority bird species in the U.S. that NGOs, and federal and state governments could focus on for conservation action. The WatchList closes this gap by including species that are listed as federally Endangered, but also by providing an early warning system through the listing of additional species that, without action, may be headed in that direction. Many of these species co-occur as assemblages in rare or threatened habitats that can be conserved as suites of birds with similar needs (e.g., cavity-nesting woodpeckers and owls in fire-suppressed forests). Others face threats that must be addressed one by one, however (e.g., rare seabirds that nest on islands invaded by rats).
In the following section we present species accounts for the 212 WatchList species: the priority species for conservation in the U.S. At the top of each species account is a blue fact bar (see opposite page). The common and scientific names for each species can be found on the left hand side of this bar. In the center column is a global population estimate, and the percentage of the population found in the U.S. If the species occurs only in the U.S., it will be noted as a U.S. Endemic. Species that only breed within the U.S., but that migrate outside its borders after breeding are noted as U.S. Breeding endemics. We also note those species whose entire populations winter in the U.S.
In the right hand column of the fact bar is the species' current population trend and WatchList status, and next to the WatchList status is the WatchList combined score within a colored box. Species are assessed on the basis of population size, range size, threats, and population trend. Species that score high in all categories are of "Highest National Concern" (Red WatchList), species that score high for threats and population trend are classified as "Declining", and those that score high for population and range size are "Rare" (latter two categories both Yellow WatchList). See Butcher et al. (2007) for more information. If the species is listed under the ESA in the U.S., or is proposed or a candidate for listing (not including foreign listed species), its listing status (Endangered, Threatened, Candidate, or proposed) will be noted beneath its WatchList status.
Beneath the fact bar, the text is divided into four sections. The first, Distribution, briefly describes the species' habitat and range. For migratory species, both breeding and non-breeding distributions are described. The second, Threats section succinctly lists major threats affecting the species. Some threats, such as climate change, cat predation, and glass collisions, may affect many species, and so we only document them for species that are (or could become) particularly adversely affected. The Conservation section highlights protected areas such as National Parks (NPs) or National Wildlife Refuges (NWRs) that protect the species, and provides information on major species-specific conservation projects that are underway. The last section, Actions, lists important actions that will benefit the species. Note that we typically do not include research or monitoring under "Actions", as these are needed for almost every species on the WatchList. Some species are better known than others, however, and those with a trend that is unknown are priorities for such work.
Each species account features a distribution map and illustration of the species. On the map, areas inhabited year-round are colored green, areas inhabited only during the breeding season are yellow, and areas inhabited outside the breeding season are blue. Migratory routes are not depicted. Maps show the global distribution for species that are not restricted to the Americas.
Bird names follow the American Ornithologists' Union (AOU) Checklist for North America, Central America, and the Caribbean, and follow the South American Species Checklist Committee for birds in South America. We have made one exception to the AOU taxonomy by splitting Newell's Shearwater from Townsend's, which is commonly accepted by conservationists. See the Glossary on p. IX for a list of terms used.
The Conservation of Subspecies
Approximately 800 species of birds occur regularly in the continental U.S. and Canada, with an additional 30 or so native species breeding in the Hawaiian Islands. Many of these species have multiple distinct populations or races that are designated as subspecies, with each subspecies usually breeding in a different geographic region. Classifying subspecies is more problematic and controversial than species, and many subspecies classifications are likely invalid or out-dated, representing forms that are not truly distinct or diagnosable. At the other extreme, well defined subspecies or subspecies groups are sometimes reclassified as full species. Such "splits" are ongoing. For instance, the American Ornithologists' Union Checklist Committee split the Tufted Titmouse along subspecies lines, elevating the Black-crested Titmouse to species status in 2002; in 2006, the two major subspecies groups within the Blue Grouse were split into two full species, now called the Dusky Grouse and Sooty Grouse.
Due to the instability of subspecies classifications and their added complexity, subspecies are usually not included in broad analyses that prioritize bird populations for conservation, and the conservation status of many subspecies thus remains to be evaluated. Nevertheless, if any country has the capacity to conserve both species and subspecies, it is the U.S. In fact, the ESA already includes provisions for the protection of subspecies, and several birds, such as the "San Clemente" Loggerhead Shrike and "Cape Sable" Seaside Sparrow are already protected by the Act. Developing a broader-based conservation program for all subspecies, however, would benefit from an updated evaluation of bird taxonomy. It is hoped that work to tease apart this tricky issue in bird conservation can be prioritized in the near future. A few highly distinctive subspecies are highlighted here.
U.S. Endangered Species, Subspecies, and Trends
This list includes bird species, subspecies, and populations in the U.S. that are currently protected under the ESA. Please refer to this page for the ESA status of species listed in the Habitats chapter. Note that conservationists have yet to systematically assess threat levels for all U.S. bird subspecies. Analysis shows that species that have been listed longer (including some that have been delisted) are faring better than those listed more recently, indicating that long-term conservation programs are working. Some species that were listed at the time the Act was passed were already likely extinct or so close to extinction that it was too late for conservation efforts to work, however (e.g., some Hawaiian species). Date of listing appears in parentheses after the species name. Trends are generalized estimates For more details see: www.stateofthebirds.org (2009) report.
Emperor Goose Chen canagica
Global population: 92,000 C.95% BREED IN U.S.
Distribution: Breeds in coastal saltmarshes of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, western Alaska, with small numbers in nearby Russia (where a large percentage of the population also stages to molt). Winters in rocky intertidal areas of western Alaska. Izembek NWR is a critical site for the species' staging and wintering.
Threats: Potential threats include oil pollution, subsistence hunting, and habitat loss due to sea level rise.
Conservation: Most breeding areas are protected within Yukon Delta NWR, and most wintering habitat is protected by the Alaska Maritime and Izembek NWRs.
Actions: Reduce risk of oil pollution in wintering areas; continue reducing subsistence hunting.
Hawaiian Goose Branta sandvicensis
Global population: 1,900 U.S. Endemic
WatchList: Highest Concern
Distribution: Once inhabited all major Hawaiian Islands and numbered c.25,000, but reduced to <30 by 1950s. Now restricted to grasslands and sparsely vegetated high volcanic slopes on Hawaii, Maui, Molokai, and Kauai. Kauai population faring better due to greater habitat availability and lack of mongooses.
Threats: Lack of suitable habitat resulting from agricultural development; predation by introduced mammals (mongooses, cats, rats). Other threats include collisions with vehicles, human disturbance, and behavioral and genetic issues.
Conservation: Protected by the State of Hawaii, and occurs within many protected areas. Predator control and supplementary feeding are provided at several sites. 2,400 captive-bred birds were released from 1960-2006, though many of these died during periodic droughts.
Actions: Expand habitat management and restoration; continue predator control, especially outside Kauai; reduce road-kills. Additional large, predator-free reserves in the lowlands and cooperation with private landowners using Safe Harbor Agreements could make a major difference.
Trumpeter Swan Cygnus buccinator
Global population: 35,000 >75% BREED IN U.S.
Distribution: Breeds in freshwater marshes, ponds, and lakes of Alaska and western Canada, with smaller populations in northern U.S. and Ontario. Alaska population winters in estuaries in British Columbia, Canada, and Washington. Most of the Rocky Mountain population winters in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Reintroduced birds in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan winter near nesting areas.
Threats: Hunting decimated populations in the lower 48 states and much of Canada during the 1800s. Current threats are loss and degradation of wetlands, lead poisoning from shot and fishing weights, and occasional collisions with power lines. Hunters may mistake these for the more widespread Tundra Swan in the Midwest.
Conservation: Most Alaskan breeding areas are secure. Red Rock Lakes NWR, Montana, protects the key site in the lower 48. Reintroduced to some of its former range.
Actions: Increase quantity and quality of wintering habitat throughout range; protect additional breeding areas in the Boreal Forest and northern prairies; protect key breeding and wintering areas from development through easements; eliminate lead shot use in foraging fields and place visible markers on utility lines.
Mottled Duck Anas fulvigula
Global population: 170,000 >75% BREED IN U.S.
WatchList: Highest Concern
Distribution: Inhabits freshwater and brackish wetlands in the southeastern U.S. and adjacent northeastern Mexico. Most of population is concentrated in Florida and in coastal wetlands of South Carolina, Louisiana, and Texas.
Threats: Major threat is wetland loss due to drainage for agriculture (total of more than nine million acres already lost from Florida, and one million from Louisiana and Texas), and conversion to open water through erosion and subsidence. Hybridization and competition with introduced domestic Mallards in Florida, hunting in Mexico, and potentially sea level rise, also threaten this species and its habitat.
Conservation: Many of its key sites are protected by NWRs in Florida, Louisiana, and Texas, and habitat restoration efforts are underway that should benefit this species.
Actions: Increase habitat through wetland restoration efforts, and discourage release of domestic Mallards.
Hawaiian Duck Anas wyvilliana
Global population: 2,400 U.S. Endemic
WatchList: Highest Concern
Distribution: Once inhabited a variety of wetland habitats on most Hawaiian Islands. Pure birds now restricted to Kauai, Niihau (together 90% of population), and parts of Hawaii; with Mallard hybrids predominating on Oahu and Maui.
Threats: Predation by introduced mammals, wetland habitat loss due to agriculture, urban development, and hunting reduced population to fewer than 500 birds in 1962. Hybridization with introduced Mallards is currently the most severe threat, and is now starting to affect birds on Kauai and Niihau.
Conservation: Captive-bred birds released on Oahu, Maui, and Hawaii from 1958-1989. Importation of Mallards to Hawaiian Islands was restricted in the 1980s. Research on identification of hybrids is occurring. The Hanalei and Huleia NWRs on Kauai are important protected areas.
Actions: Heighten public awareness of hybridization issues and educate site managers on hybrid identification; humanely remove feral Mallards and hybrids, especially on Kauai; restore wetland habitat and control invasive predators; reintroduce birds to appropriate sites on Maui and Molokai once the hybridization threat is removed.
Laysan Duck Anas laysanensis
Global population: 800 U.S. Endemic
WatchList: Highest Concern
Distribution: Formerly distributed among wetlands of the Hawaiian Islands, but restricted to Laysan Island for most of the last 150 years. Recently reintroduced to Midway Atoll.
Threats: Introduced rats likely wiped out this species from most islands. Rabbits introduced to Laysan in the 1800s eliminated vegetation and nearly caused the species' extinction. Vulnerable to population crashes from drought and disease. Other threats include invasive ants on Laysan that may compete for insect prey, and invasive shrubs that degrade habitat. Botulism outbreaks, sea level rise, and the accidental introduction of mammalian predators are potential threats.
Conservation: Alien grass was eradicated from Laysan to allow native bunchgrass to recover, and the removal of invasive wetland shrubs will preserve foraging habitat there. Forty-two juvenile ducks were translocated to Midway NWR from 2004-2005, and have since bred successfully.
Actions: Continue habitat restoration on Laysan and Midway; disease surveillance; genetic management and botulism mitigation; establish additional populations on other islands with higher elevations to reduce extinction risk from sea level rise and other disasters.
Steller's Eider Polysticta stelleri
Global population: 110,000-125,000 >70% WINTER IN U.S., C. 1,000 BREED
WatchList: Highest Concern
Distribution: Breeds in arctic tundra near freshwater ponds in western and eastern Siberia, along Alaska's North Coast, and sparsely in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. Western Siberian populations winter in extreme Northern Europe, but most birds winter in coastal areas of the Alaska Peninsula, the Aleutian Islands, and Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula.
Threats: Subsistence hunting and poisoning from lead shot may be problematic in Alaska and Russia. Other threats may include oil pollution, and habitat loss to sea level rise associated with climate change.
Conservation: Legally protected in the U.S. and Russia. Most important areas in the U.S. are protected within refuges, including Izembek (>17,000 staging), Kodiak Island, Alaska Peninsula, Yukon Delta, and Alaska Maritime NWRs. Primary breeding grounds along the Arctic Coastal Plain are within the National Petroleum Reserve, which is open for oil and gas extraction, however.
Actions: Ensure oil and gas development within National Petroleum Reserve avoids affecting key breeding areas; decrease hunting pressure in Alaska and Russia; assess the impacts of oil pollution and accidental mortality in fisheries.
Excerpted from The American Bird Conservancy Guide to Bird Conservation by Daniel J. Lebbin Michael J. Parr George H. Fenwick Copyright © 2010 by The American Bird Conservancy. Excerpted by permission of The University Of Chicago Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Michael J. Parr is vice president, George H. Fenwick is president, and Daniel J. Lebbin is conservation biologist at the American Bird Conservancy.
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Outstanding, beautifully illustrated resource. This book is packed with practical ideas that everyone can easily apply to help birds. Highly recommended.